10 Tips to Bag Your First Graphic Design Gig
So, you want to break into the world of graphic design? As a newcomer, landing that crucial first client can seem daunting. But fear not! You can kickstart your freelance graphic design career with strategic planning and persistent effort.
In this comprehensive guide, I'll walk you through my top tips for turning your graphic design dreams into a reality. From honing your skills to identifying opportunities to wowing potential clients, I've covered the steps for securing your graphic design gig. Let's get started!
Table of Contents
Perfect Your Design Skills First and Foremost
You can't score design jobs if you don't have top-notch and in-demand skills. Before diving into the job hunt, dedicate time upfront to comprehensively developing your abilities across today's critical graphic design domains:
Master the Latest Design Software
- Get fluent in Adobe Creative Cloud programs like Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign—these are absolute must-knows.
- Dabble with up-and-comers like Figma, Canva, and GIMP to expand your toolkit.
- Know the ins and outs of critical tools like typography, colour theory, layouts, etc. Tutorials and online courses are your friends here!
Level Up Your Design Knowledge
- Thoroughly study graphic design principles like contrast, whitespace, visual hierarchy, etc. Refer to case studies and industry best practices.
- Research the most sought-after designs today—UI/UX, logo, advertisement, packaging, brochure, etc.—along with current styles and trends.
- Understand how to tailor designs across print vs digital media. Print has its unique requirements.
Build a Strong Portfolio
Your portfolio will serve as the foremost showcase of your abilities, so ensure you have:
- 8-12 diverse and stellar design samples reflecting your range. Include context, e.g. client needs.
- Pieces tailored to the types of gigs you are targeting
- Varied styles and aesthetics to indicate versatility
- Sections dedicated to your specialisations
- Descriptions conveying the rationale behind each design
Set aside weeks or months to build formidable design skills aligned to market needs. Treat this as your foremost priority before seeking jobs.
Define Your Design Niche and Target Clients
As a new designer peppering their portfolio, you may be tempted to say “yes” to all graphic design opportunities. Don't give in!
- Identify 2-3 specific design domains you ultimately wish to specialise in. For instance, you can focus exclusively on developing logos, laying out magazines, or designing event posters.
- Within these niches, determine the types of services you will offer. Will you focus on digital or print designs? What are the specific parts of the design process, e.g., ideation? Specific deliverables like style guides?
- Pinpoint your ideal target client profiles. This includes factors like company size, industry, budget range and so on aligned to your niche. For example, you may want to pursue startups planning their branding on modest budgets.
Defining a tight niche and ideal client from the get-go will allow you to tailor your portfolio, services and marketing correctly. You will come across as an expert right out of the gate when prospecting for gigs related to your specialisation. Avoid falling prey to a generalist profile—that rarely reels in jobs for newcomers lacking an established reputation.
Build Your Professional Brand and Online Presence
From day one, you must vehemently invest in your professional brand to be perceived as a credible design talent capable of taking on client assignments. This includes crafting the right image across:
A Standout Online Portfolio Website
Your website is your golden ticket to clinching design gigs. Make sure you:
- Purchase your domain and avoid free sites dripping with ads
- Opt for a simple, clean design that won't distract from your work
- Structure your site aligned to your specialisations and client needs
- Make your portfolio centre stage rather than extensive text
- Display your best and most relevant work
- Include a bio/services section conveying your expertise
Robust Professional Profiles
Also, craft meticulous profiles on platforms like:
- LinkedIn – Include a professional headshot, polished background summary, etc.
- Behance – Build your community through likes, comments, etc.
- Dribbble – Post snippets to increase visibility
Having an established personal brand across channels builds legitimacy for prospective clients checking you out.
Specify Your Rates and Packages
Early on, determine:
- The hourly or project rates you plan to charge. Research average pricing for your niche, experience level, location, etc.
- The specific services and deliverables you will provide. For instance, three logo concepts, two rounds of revisions, etc.
- How you may bundle or package services to offer tiered options. This provides clients flexibility.
Articulating precise rates and services gives you greater credibility versus appearing ambiguous or unprepared. It also indicates experience in formally providing design services to clients.
As examples, you may offer:
- Branding bundle: $X for logo, typography and colour palette
- Print design bundle: $X for a tri-fold brochure including three concepts, two revisions
- Hourly consultation: $X per hour for design strategy, ideation, etc.
Having pre-defined packages removes back-and-forth when securing your first gigs and builds confidence in your professionalism. Adjust details as needed once you start to get traction.
Leverage Existing Connections
An excellent starting point for bagging debut clients is tapping connections who already know, like and trust you personally. Reach out to:
- Friends, family, or peers who run or work at companies need graphic design support. Offer them a friends and family discount!
- College professors and former colleagues and managers at companies you interned or worked at
- Members from communities you are active in, e.g. volunteer groups
The benefit of leveraging existing relationships is the ability to shortcut building credibility from scratch. Moreover, acquaintances will likely be extra supportive in providing references, testimonials and referrals for your early wins.
So, before anything, mine your network for client opportunities!
Pursue Small Business and Startup Owners
For new designers specifically, targeting entrepreneurs at modest startups or small businesses can be a strategic move. Compared to large corporations, these entities often:
- Have limited budgets better suited for up-and-coming creatives
- Are moving swiftly, so we have more urgent design needs
- Are willing to take a chance on developing talent
- Allow you to get involved across broader design activities
Therefore, prioritise intentionally networking with and marketing to owners of growing startups or small shops related to your niche.
For instance, run searches on platforms like AngelList, attend local startup events or simply scout Main Street joint owners through cold outreach. Pitch how you can solve their branding or design pain points within budget.
Securing small but eager clients provides the chance to earn income and testimonials and build real-world experience!
Offer Discounted or Free Trial Work
While working for free generally won't pay your professional bills and thus isn't advisable over the long run, offering trial runs, discounts or select pro-bono services can be an intentional launchpad strategy.
Potential avenues to provide free or affordable work include:
- Offering friends and family irresistible deals
- Running time-bound discounts on social media, e.g. first three clients at 50% off
- Designing on spec for 1-2 companies you want to partner with
- Volunteering for causes you support, e.g. designing posters for a nonprofit event
- Participating in crowd-sourced design contests with cash prizes or visibility incentives
Undertaking select unpaid work generates new portfolio samples, client testimonials and referrals. Just be highly selective about your trial work and keep it limited in duration. Set boundaries so clients don't exploit your generosity long-term!
Join Relevant Online Communities
While in-person networking is invaluable, plug into online graphic design communities to expand your network and opportunities. Sign up for:
- Industry forums and groups on Facebook to crowdsource advice or be alerted to gigs
- LinkedIn communities aligned to your specialities for discussing trends and best practices
- Graphic design subreddits like r/graphic_design to peruse listings or promote your services
- Design Slack groups focused on feedback, collaboration and job boards
Actively participate by generously sharing your knowledge vs only posting self-promotional content. Building relationships and credibility takes patience, but persistence pays long-term dividends!
Make Some Noise on Job Boards and Freelance Sites
While oversaturated, beginner-friendly online job boards and freelance websites provide additional visibility that might lead to your first client:
- Post detailed profile listings on Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer, highlighting your niche, portfolio and rates
- Create and monitor job alerts on broader sites like Indeed, Monster, and SimplyHired aligned to your region's entry-level graphic design opportunities.
- Follow and engage companies posting relevant graphic design gigs on Twitter using hashtags like #graphicdesignjob
Cast a wide net across multiple platforms for the best shot at initial opportunities. Be prepared to submit well-articulated applications or bids to stand out from the masses of responses companies receive.
Table summarising top online channels to find and win graphic design clients:
|Search for startups and small companies in your region and niche to pitch directly
|Behance and Dribbble
|Connect with other creatives and get your work noticed
|Post examples or availability in graphic design job subreddits
|Join industry forums and communities aligned to your specialities
|List graphic design services and link to portfolio
|Submit bids for relevant graphic design projects
|Create alerts for entry-level “graphic designer” listings in your area
|Identify and connect with founders of early-stage startups
|Attend networking events and startup pitch days
Stay Persistent Through Early Frustrations
I won't pretend that clinching your first gig is easy or happens overnight. During the process, expect sleepless nights plagued by doubts like:
- Is my work really good enough to charge for?
- Did I make a mistake going out on my own?
- Why won't anyone give me a chance?
Power through the early phase frustrations by reminding yourself that every renowned designer once started precisely where you stand. If they made it, you could get there, too, with focused effort.
Stay patient and persistent for at least 6-12 months, allowing sufficient runway to secure that career-making first client win under your belt. Avoid jumping to defeatist conclusions prematurely. Your chance will come if you grind wisely by implementing the tips in this guide!
Phew, that was quite the extensive playbook! While initially daunting, adopting the step-by-step game plan outlined above will empower you to land critical graphic design gigs that kickstart your freelancing career.
Remember, no renowned designer found overnight success or glory. Investing diligently in your skills, brand and visibility while targeting the right opportunities will slowly but surely get your foot through the client door. Then, you can shift gears and consistently scale your practice.
I wish you the best in your journey to confidently promote your talents and score your debut design assignment. Believe in your vision, and don't get deterred by early hurdles. You’ve SO got this!
I'm excited to see your name and work splashed across banners someday!
Graphic Design Gig FAQs
What graphic design skills should I learn as a total beginner?
Start by mastering fundamental concepts like colour theory, typography, layout principles, and a tool like Canva. Then, level up into more advanced software such as Adobe Creative Cloud programs.
How much should I charge for my first graphic design services?
Assess average market rates but offer discounts as a newbie. For example, charge 50% of rates seasoned designers with years of experience command. Offer bundled packages priced $X to $X aligned to deliverables.
Where can I find freelance graphic design work?
Great places to look include LinkedIn, networking events, design job boards, freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork, local startups and small businesses in your area and leveraging personal connections.
Should I work for free as a graphic designer?
Limit free work to select circumstances like nonprofits you support or 1-2 target “dream” companies. Be very selective. Generally charge discounted but not non-existent rates as a rookie.
How do I get graphic design experience without clients?
Undertake personal projects, mock clients, design contests/challenges and high-quality online courses. Redesign brands you admire for portfolio samples. Volunteer time to causes needing visual assets.